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  • Writer's pictureKatja

River Rescue Weekend

This class was supposed to happen back in May as part of my preparation for the Grand Canyon, but the dislocated knee made attending in the spring impossible. A reschedule-date of September 11-12 was offered and we (my friend Carol and I) eagerly awaited the chilly chance to refresh some skills and learn some new ones.

The class was offered by Wet Planet and allowed us to complete the requirements for certification through Sierra Rescue International. Check it out here if you want to learn more.

We spent two days on the White Salemon River in Washington, located along the north side Columbia River. The towns of White Salmon and Hood River offer breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams and are wonderful outdoor hubs, full of breweries, outfitters, and adventurous spirits.

The class was a lot of fun and parts of it were very challenging. We spent some time on land, spread out (covid style) in a large tent and in the trees while working on some fundamental skills and more technical rope systems. Of all the small world scenarios, we were in class with Al, a member of Carol’s Grand Canyon trip several years prior!

The water was very cold and very swift, so wet and dry suits were required. Other accessories included close toed water shoes, splash jackets, warm layers, and helmets. Our first moments on the river were “challenge by choice” with an invitation to plunge into the 40-something-degree water in the middle of a rapid and begin swimming. Our group of 10 plus instructor Ali bravely took on the cold water and had a blast!

Over the two days, we worked on individual skills like navigating rapids feet first and head first, partner rescue including throw bags and swimming a victim to shore, and group skills such as moving multiple people safely across a current on foot and via fixed line. It was cold, exhausting work, but in the end it felt like everything I knew from informal safety lessons clicked more solidly and a lot of new skills were introduced that can make future river excursions more safe and successful experiences.

Scoping out Rattlesnake, our class III classroom on day one.

Throw-bag partner practice, aka fishing for friends.

Assisting a person-in-distress to shore.

Live-bait training, aka jump in and trust your team to pull you back.

More swimming practice, this time dodging other rafts and kayakers.

Team crossing challenge (we aced it!). In this scenario, the person at the top of the pyramid acts as a human shield for the group and together, the front three essentially form a human eddie that can travel safely through moving water. An application of this might be if someone is mid-river and drowning from a foot entrapment; the group can get to them, shelter them from the current, and (hopefully) retrieve them and bring them back to shore.

Strainer scenarios. A strainer (hazard in the water that can trap and down you) is too dangerous to learn on for real, so the group simulates the hazard by holding a log in the water and each swimmer takes turns executing several self and partner rescue maneuvers.

Using rope to safely transport people across moving water, aka human anchored water zip lining!

I wish I had been able to complete this course prior to being on the Colorado River this summer. It has taught me new skills, improved my abilities with known skills, and has significantly improved my confidence in being able to better assist myself, my partner, and my raft in less than ideal whitewater situations. I suggest signing up if you are a river runner of any level (novice to salty and seasoned). Hit me up if you’d like to go out and practice sometime!

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